Failure, the concept scares many people. It can be a deterrent and make people not want to shoot for something. The thing is, failure isn't always a negative occurrence or something to be afraid of. Everyone fails, and that is perfectly ok. What is important, is learning from failure and using it as a learning tool to evolve as a hunter. A quote that will always stick out in my mind is from the great Michael Jordan. "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." I understand this is a basketball quote, but it applies beautifully to the art of hunting mature bucks.
A mature buck is a wary, smart, and rare animal. Being able to hunt them and successfully harvest them takes serious skill, combined with good luck. Every single deer has their own personality, and the combination of all this is what makes them so difficult to hunt. Failure is inevitable. If you plan on killing a mature buck every year, with never messing up, you mine as well quit now. Even some of the most renounced hunters that come to mind, such as Bill Winke, Jeff Danker, or Michael Wadell, people that consistently put big mature bucks on the ground, preach learning from failure and mistakes.
Once you accept the fact that failure comes along natural when hunting mature bucks, it's time to take that next step and learn from it. In the moment, failure is frustrating, there is no doubt about that. If a mature bucks busts you from the stand, your first thought isn't going to be "let's learn from this moment!" It's learning from it after you have had time to settle down and think about the moment clearly. This might be while sitting in the stand fifteen minutes later, or reflecting on it that night at the dinner table. You need to ask yourself, why did that buck bust me? Did you hunt on the wrong wind when you know you shouldn't have? Were you lazy while hanging that stand and had no cover? You need to figure out why that deer busted you. Because if you don't change anything, you will be busted again and again, and before you know it that buck will be patterning you instead of the other way around.
When you do adjust, and learn from your mistakes, it can lead to success, and be very gratifying. For example, in 2012 I was after what would have been my biggest buck to date, a big massive eleven pointer I estimated would score somewhere in the 150" range. During the rut, one morning I thought I finally found the right spot to catch up with him, but there was one issue. There was only one tree suitable for a stand and it had zero cover. Opposed to doing what I knew I should do and create my own cover, I simply tossed the stand up exposed. That morning, I had my target buck within twenty yards. He snuck in on me quietly and caught me by surprise. Once he neared my shooting lane, I drew back my bow. Due to having no cover, he caught me mid draw and bounded out of my sight. It was crushing, I wanted that buck worse than anything. The worst part was that I knew in my heart I should have either created my own cover in the tree or hung the stand on the backside of the tree. I never saw that buck again, he was an absolute ghost. And I knew it was most likely because of me being lazy.
Fast forward to the following fall. I made a commitment to myself to only hang stands in trees with a plethora of cover or set them up on the backside of trees. Once again I was after a big buck, one that I had named Skyscraper (you can read the full story about this buck in the article The Quest for Skyscraper). I was after him the whole latter part of the season. I got put into the same situation as the season before. Where I needed to hunt him, there was only one suitable tree and it had no cover. This time I learned, and decided to hang the stand on the backside of the tree. It made it more difficult to hunt, because you have to stand and practically face the tree every time in the stand. It isn't as comfortable to hunt, but on December 27th, 2013 it paid off. My target buck finally showed, and this time when I drew back on him (with four other deer also inside of twenty yards) I didn't get busted. Not to mention, I made a good shot, and successfully recovered him. I was absolutely elated with being blessed enough to harvest that deer. But I knew, the season before allowed me to shoot that deer. I truly believe that the failure of 2012 and learning that I can't be lazy when hanging deer stands led me to the great success of 2013, and will lead me to many more successful hunts in the future. I'm confident that the next time you have some type of failure, that if you learn from it, you will also have many more successful hunts in the future.